|09.02.14 at 7:00 am ET|
When they were told Rob Gronkowski announced that he was good to go for Sunday’s regular-season opener, the Dolphins were hardly surprised.
“Well, we were fully prepared,” said coach Joe Philbin when asked about Gronkowski’s proclamation. “We saw he’s on the 53-man roster, so you have to be prepared for every combination.”
The Dolphins have struggled defensively against tight ends over the last few seasons, but those have been more of the Jimmy Graham types who are tight ends in name only. Instead, they’ve managed to do a pretty good job containing the bigger and bulkier tight ends like Gronkowski. In six career games against Miami, Gronkowski averaged four catches, 56 yards and 0.5 touchdowns per game, some of his lowest per game averages against a regular opponent. (In his last two games against Miami, Gronkowski had only only four catches.)
While Miami hasn’t found a way to stop him completely, it has been able to slow him down.
“Any of the big tight ends you face, guys of that caliber [who] can create mismatches in man-to-man, body up against smaller defensive backs or even small linebackers, [that’s] an issue,” Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said Monday. “[Gronkowski has] also been a big target for them in the red zone, so if he plays and how much he plays — we don’t know how much that will be — that’s not going to change what we do.
“We’ve got to defend their entire group. That’s a big enough chore as it is, so we’ve assumed that he would be playing. That’s kind of how we’ve been proceeding since the spring when we found out this was going to be the opener.’
“He’s an excellent player,” Philbin added. “He’s been a very, very productive player throughout his career. We’ll have a good plan in place, but he’s certainly an important part of their offense, and a productive part of it. We’ll be ready for him, for sure.”
|09.01.14 at 9:35 pm ET|
Here are five things you have to know about the Dolphins, who are looking to break the Patriots’ 10-game winning streak when it comes to regular-season openers Sunday in South Florida.
1. They are going to look to push the pace offensively.
Miami imported former Eagles quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor to serve as its new OC, and in an attempt to give the offense a jolt, he’s expected to bring a little Chip Kelly-style flair to the proceedings. That means faster football, and given the fact that the Patriots will be entering into what’s expected to be sweltering South Florida heat, the Dolphins will try and use a quicker tempo to their advantage. For what it’s worth, Miami has been a little quicker than the average NFL team over the last two years under Joe Philbin. Measured using situation-neutral offensive pace — a formula from Football Outsiders that eliminates things like two-minute drills and late-game clock-killing situations to get a truer idea of the offense’s intentions when it comes to offensive pace — the 2012 Dolphins were ninth overall at one play every 29.23 seconds, and last year, on average, they ran one play every 30.08 seconds, 14th quickest in the NFL. Of course, it’s debatable how effective the uptempo style will be. But it’s important to remember that Lazor played a sizable role in the growth and development of Nick Foles in Philly’s fast scheme last year, as Foles went from backup quarterback to SI cover boy in the span of a few months and the Eagles went from worst (4-12 and last in the NFC East) to first (10-6 and a division title) under Kelly. It’s clear Miami is hoping that Ryan Tannehill and the rest of the Dolphins offense can respond the same way in 2014.
2. They are all-in at wide receiver.
The Dolphins have really gone above and beyond when it comes to giving Ryan Tannehill enough options. With the cap hit for Mike Wallace ballooning to $17.25 million this year, the Dolphins are spending a whopping $29.6 million on their 2014 wide receivers’by far the most in the league, according to a June study by CBS Sports. Wallace, Brian Hartline, Rishard Matthews and Brandon Gibson are joined by rookie Jarvis Landry to form a relatively deep group of wide receivers, one that will serve as a nice challenge for a revamped New England secondary at the start of the season. (Some believe Lazor will try and use Wallace in much the same manner the Eagles did with DeSean Jackson, which is an intriguing concept.)
3. The interior of their offensive line is vulnerable.
The Dolphins have struggled with their offensive line dating back to last year — from a pure football perspective, the Incognito-Martin imbroglio simply shone a light on things. Miami allowed a league-high 58 sacks of Tannehill last season, 10 more than the second-place finish (Baltimore’s Joe Flacco was sacked 48 times) and tied for 10th most all-time in a single season. (For some perspective, Houston’s David Carr was sacked an astounding 76 times in 2002, the all-time mark.) Here’s a highlight reel of all 58 sacks, a sequence that lasts almost 10 minutes.
In all, Tannehill has been sacked 93 times in his first two years in the league. (We haven’t even mentioned the fact that the Miami running game was 26th in the league last season — a sizable portion of the blame for those numbers can also be attributed to the offensive line.) And so it was no surprise the Dolphins made offensive line a priority this offseason. They stabilized their left tackle spot with the addition of Branden Albert, while they used their first round pick on Ja’Wuan James, who appears to be the Week 1 right tackle for Miami. But things are still very rough along the interior, as center Mike Pouncey continues to work his way back from offseason hip surgery (Samson Satele will get the start in his place), while guard play has been questionable at best over the course of the summer. Bottom line? If you want to attack this offense, your best bet appears to be up the gut.
4. Their pass rush will test the New England offensive line early.
Left defensive end Cameron Wake (8.5 sacks last year) and right defensive end Olivier Vernon (11.5 sacks last year) combine to form a very nice set of bookends, and are likely the top priority when it comes to pass protection for the Patriots. (Per Football Outsiders, Wake notched at least 20 hurries and 20 quarterback knockdowns for the fourth year in a row.) While the Dolphins are very good off the edge, it would ostensibly be a strength-on-strength matchup against right tackle Sebastian Vollmer and left tackle Nate Solder. Miami could have an edge if it finds a way to get pressure up the middle, as the interior of New England’s offensive line has some personnel questions, particularly if Marcus Cannon is utilized more as a backup swing tackle than one of the two available guard spots. But many of the questions people have had about the overall fitness of the Patriots offensive line will be answered against a pretty good front seven in the opener.
5. They are ready for Rob Gronkowski … if the big tight end does play.
The Dolphins hardly sounded shocked at the proclamation from Gronkowski that he was good to go for Week 1. Miami defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle was asked about Gronkowski’s statement that he was going to play, and he responded with a simple, ‘We assumed that he might.’ In Gronkowski’s career, the Patriots are 6-0 against Miami when he’s in the lineup, but for what it’s worth, the Dolphins have actually done a pretty fair job at containing Gronkowski over the years: In six career games against Miami, he’s averaged four catches, 56 yards and 0.5 touchdowns per game, some of his lowest per game averages against a regular opponent. (In his last two games against Miami, Gronkowski had only only four catches.) It remains to be seen if Gronkowski actually plays, and if he does, how many snaps he’ll take. (His overall football fitness remains in question, and Bill Belichick has said on numerous occasions that you just can run around a track a few times and be ready to play.) But history tells us that the Dolphins have found a way to not stop him completely, but at least slow him down to a point where he not the runaway offensive force he’s been against most teams when he’s been healthy. “He’s an excellent player,” Philbin said Monday when asked about Gronkowski. “He’s been a very, very productive player throughout his career. We’ll have a good plan in place, but he’s certainly an important part of their offense, and a productive part of it. We’ll be ready for him, for sure.”
|09.01.14 at 9:00 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Among those most excited about the declaration of Rob Gronkowski on Monday was the newest tight end on the team. Tim Wright was acquired by the Patriots to give Tom Brady something he hasn’t had since the heyday of Aaron Hernandez, a legitimate speed threat at tight end opposite Gronkowski.
After watching Gronkowski from afar for so many seasons, Wright said Monday that he thinks he can compliment the star tight end with his speed and catching skills.
“I definitely think we can work off each other and I’m going to learn a lot of things from him and learn a lot from the receivers they have and just overall, from Coach Belichick and all those in the Patriots organization,” Wright said.
Wright caught four passes for 43 yards on six targets from Jimmy Garoppolo in Thursday night’s preseason finale, without any formal practices with Gronkowski or Tom Brady.
“Every thing wasn’t done right,” Wright said. “I was just playing fast and just going out there and doing my job, catching balls, blocking, doing whatever coaches ask.”
Now comes the fun part for Wright. Catching passes from Brady and running routes in practice opposite Gronkowski.
“I feel like I could be used in all types of ways,” Wright said. “It’s up to the coaches to determine that and see what fits best for me and best for all my other teammates. Football is football at the end of the day. It’s a ball and whatever that description may entail, that’s what I’ll try to go out and do.
“It’s going good,” Wright said. “The coaches are doing a great job translating it for me and trying to catch me up to speed.”
Wright has played at Gillette Stadium before, practicing against the Patriots with the Buccaneers in Aug. 2013 and catching his first NFL pass last season in a 23-3 Patriots win over Wright’s Tampa Bay team last September. Wright’s caught one pass for six yards.
“First catch here,” Wright recalled Monday. “There’s a few things I did here that marked my journey from last year and things that happened in the past. I’m excited about the future.”
Now, Wright begins anew again. This is his second offensive coordinator in as many NFL seasons, after catching 54 passes for 571 yards and five touchdowns last season with Tampa Bay. Wright had three offensive coordinators in as many seasons in his final three years at Rutgers.
“In college, I went through four different offenses, last two years I’ve been through two different ones,” Wright said. “It’s all a learning experience and it’s something I’ve been doing and I’m able to adapt to it. It’s Xs and Os. The coaches do a great job of pointing out where you need to be and the job you need to do for that specific play.
“It’s an awesome opportunity for me to be part of a great organization and play alongside of some great guys.”
|09.01.14 at 8:27 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Rob Gronkowski wasn’t the only Patriots player Monday making a declaration of readiness to play this Sunday in the season opener.
After coming out of joint practices with the Redskins in early August with an injured left wrist, defensive tackle Sealver Siliga pronounced himself ready to play against the Dolphins in the 2014 opener. The addition of the 6-foot-2, 325-pound tackle to the defensive line adds some valuable depth behind Vince Wilfork and Joe Vellano.
“I feel good. I feel great, ready to get this going, ready to play on Sunday. It’s been a while. It’s been about a month since I’ve taken my last snap. That’s what [Monday] is for and the next few days, to get back out there and start running around with the fellas and see what I can pick up.”
The Patriots spent much of August taking a serious look at the interior of their defensive line, bringing in players like Jerel Worthy (released on Saturday) and Ben Bass (released) to compete with Vellano and Siliga. That didn’t stop with roster cuts as they picked up rookie Bruce Gaston from Arizona and Kelcy Quarles from the Giants on Sunday.
“This is the team that we’re going to go along with. I’m excited about the team the coaches have put together. I’m just going to go out there and work hard and wherever coach puts me out there, I’m going to do what I have to for the team.”
Siliga, who showed his value as a fixture in the middle of the defensive line last year, is a 24-year-old tackle trying to stick in New England after stops with the 49ers, Broncos and Seahawks early in his career.
“It’s a situation where I came from, I never want to feel comfortable,” Siliga said. “The last few years how they’ve turned out for me has helped me understand that every day I have in the NFL is a blessing so I don’t look at it as being comfortable.”
Siliga has been in Foxboro long enough to know there’s no shortage of leadership on defense.
“Definitely we have leaders in Vince and Mayo and Revis on the outside,” Siliga said. “If we all just stick together and everybody does their job, we should be OK.”
Will Siliga’s conditioning be up to snuff and ready for game action after sitting out the entire preseason?
“I was just making sure that I was staying in condition, and that my conditioning was up there and my strength stays up there and I make sure I hit the playbook and know all my stuff 100 percent,” he said. “I ran a lot, do extra stuff today and get ready.”
|09.01.14 at 6:19 pm ET|
The Patriots waived guard Chris Barker and received defensive back Don Jones on waivers on Monday.
Jones is a 24-year-old strong safety who played in 16 games last season with Miami — the 5-foot-11, 205-pounder finished the year with 10 tackles and one forced fumble.
The 24-year-old Barker was claimed off waivers by the Patriots last September. The undrafted free agent out of Nevada is a 6-foot-4, 305-pounder who played in four games with New England last season.
For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.
|09.01.14 at 5:17 pm ET|
FOXBORO — WEEI.com’s Mike Petraglia reports that Rob Gronkowski announced publicly Monday that he’s been cleared for NFL games. Gronkowski joked that he was happy to “break the news” himself, a bit of a rarity for a player to announce his readiness for game action for the 2014 season opener Sunday in Miami.
|09.01.14 at 2:55 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Sometimes the hidden skills of an NFL player are forgotten.
Take Rob Ninkovich. Long before he became one of the better edge rushers in football and a perfect fit in the Patriots defense, he found his way onto an NFL roster through his special teams skills. Namely, Ninkovich perfected his long snapping skills.
With Joliet Junior College and Purdue University and then in the NFL with the Saints and Dolphins, Ninkovich proved his worth by not only rushing the passer but perfecting his long snapping skills, working on punt, extra point and field goal units.
“Snapping? I’ve been doing it for a long time now,” Ninkovich said. “That’s something that I’ve always worked on, constantly worked at and been able to use that, have that in my back pocket whenever there’s an issue [like] if a snapper hurts his hand or something, I can go out there and get the job done. Again, that just comes with doing it [in high school], doing it [in college] and it’s just another one of those things that can help the team.
“You can’t just expect to snap a football and not have done it or practiced it. I work on it all the time. Again [it’s about], the more things you can do, and the more things you can help your team out with.”
Ninkovich was spotted before the third preseason game with the Panthers working on his long snapping, though unlike Tom Brady, he did not make a special teams appearance during the preseason.
As Bill Belichick conceded Sunday in a conference call with reporters, Ninkovich could definitely be ‘an option’ for the Patriots as long snapper after the release of Danny Aiken as part of the cuts over the weekend.
“Whatever it is I’m doing, we all have multiple roles,” Ninkovich said. “I’m going to focus in on playing defense. Special teams, I’ve done it in the past. It’s something where if ever there’s opportunity for me to go out there and do it, I could do it. I’ve done it before.”
The Patriots did sign long snapper Charley Hughlett on Monday but that was to the practice squad. So, for right now, the active player on the roster with long snapping experience is Ninkovich.
“I don’t want to get into what I am doing and what I won’t be doing,” Ninkovich said. “Whatever I am doing and whatever they ask me to do, I’ll do it to the best of my abilities.
“I’ve been in that position before. It’s one thing about this league, you never know what’s going to happen. I understand the anxiety that comes with that day. You just feel for those guys that weren’t able to stick around because there are a lot of good football players that don’t have a job. You just hope that they get another opportunity and go somewhere else and make the best of it.”
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